BY MICHAEL ROTHFELD. STAFF WRITER
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.
More than a dozen male employees of the Nassau County Police Department, including several high-ranking officers, posted pornography and graphic cartoons in a precinct house, made lewd remarks, disobeyed orders by women, and gave preferential treatment to men, according to accusations by five female employees.
The charges of rampant sexual harassment and discrimination are detailed in three separate filings - a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and two federal lawsuits.
"Women can do as good a job as any man can, but sometimes it's difficult when they're forced to work in an environment that's permeated with hostility," said Rick Ostrove, an attorney with Leeds, Morelli & Brown in Carle Place who is representing all of the women. He said the department has been slow to deal with the problems.
Most of the accused either declined to comment or could not immediately be reached.
In one instance, Det. Pamela Olsen, a 23-year veteran in the Eighth Precinct in Levittown, said in a federal lawsuit filed in January that Det. Kenneth Catalani made repeated references to her reproductive system, such as "shrunken ovaries."
"You can't trust anyone who bleeds every month and doesn't die," Catalani told a male colleague, making a joke about the female menstrual cycle in Olsen's presence, according to the suit.
Police officials said they have transferred six male employees out of the Eighth Precinct since August in response to complaints by Olsen and two other female detectives there. None was disciplined; Catalani was later promoted to sergeant based on passing a civil service test.
In response to a complaint last July by MaryEllen Humphrey, an ambulance medical technician coordinator, the department launched an Internal Affairs investigation and in January transferred Deputy Insp. John Fitzwilliam from his job as commanding officer of the Emergency Ambulance Bureau. Police brass demoted Deputy Commanding Officer Paul Napoli and are taking disciplinary action against three other men.
Police Commissioner James Lawrence said the complaints involve a small fraction of the department's 4,000 employees. Nonetheless, he said, he is serious about ending the "vestiges of chauvinism" on the traditionally male-dominated force. About 10 percent of Nassau's 403 detectives are women.
"Things that were tolerated 50 years ago can't be tolerated now," Lawrence said. "It's important that I send the message out to everyone."
Thomas Willdigg, president of the county detectives union, declined to comment on the lawsuits by the female detectives, but he said discrimination is not a major problem.
"I've been a detective for 26 years and I never saw this before," he said.
In Humphrey's case, county investigators found on Jan. 24 that she had been discriminated against by Fitzwilliam and Napoli and harassed by Ambulance Medical Technician Richard Messina in violation of Nassau's Equal Employment Opportunity policy.
The county's report was issued six days after Humphrey filed a separate complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a step that precedes a lawsuit. The report said a male subordinate, Paul Brodowsky, refused her order to respond to a man who was having a heart attack and later died. He was also caught on tape making negative remarks about women.
The report faulted Fitzwilliam and Napoli for failing to discipline Brodowsky. An investigator told Messina in a letter that he used "vulgar, offensive language which is derogatory to female staff and ... disregarded and ridiculed female staff."
Messina is receiving a reprimand and sensitivity training and Brodowsky is being reprimanded, county officials said.
Fitzwilliam, who now oversees the Community Safety Unit in the chief of patrol's office, said he could not comment because the case might go to court. "I certainly think I am innocent," he said.
Messina declined to comment. Napoli and Brodowsky could not be reached.
In the Eighth Detective Squad, Olsen and Detectives Noreen Cribbin and Deirdre Ketcham sued for civil rights violations, naming the county, Det. Lt. Vincent Robustelli, Lt. Joseph Carini, Sgt. Steven Zeth, Sgt. Robert Atchison, Catalani and Det. Kenneth Schmitt. The men were transferred and Robustelli is now retired. An internal affairs investigation found none of the accusations could be verified, county officials said.
According to the suit, the men over several years asked the women about their sexual practices, sent pornographic e-mails, and left raunchy magazines around the station. The women contended that decisions on overtime, assignments and added training went against them due to their gender. Robustelli, Schmitt and Zeth declined to comment. The other men could not be reached.
Another detective, Natalie Beyer, filed suit in 2002 in U.S. District Court accusing the department and four male police supervisors of discriminating against her by giving a male colleague a job she had requested.
Det. Lt. James Granelle told her, "We need to take care of the 'boys,'" her suit said. Granelle said in an interview that he never used the word "boys" and denied that Beyer's gender was a factor. County lawyers have asked that the suit be dismissed. '
Job: Ambulance Medical Technician Coordinator
Nassau Police tenure: 18 years
Nassau Police tenure: 23 years
Nassau Police tenure: 18 years
Nassau Police tenure: 22 years
Nassau Police tenure: 19 years
The gender split
A breakdown of the Nassau County Police Department.
(Includes police officers, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants, chiefs, ect.)
Female: 294 (11%)
Male: 2,389 (89%)
Advanced medical technicians
Female: 20 (14%)
Male: 118 (86%)
SOURCE: NASSAU POLICE
What they said happened
MaryEllen Humphrey, a Nassau County Ambulance Medical Technician Coordinator, filed complaints with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and with the county about harassment and discrimination by male colleagues, including her commanding officer, Dep. Insp. John Fitzwilliam.
Humphrey said male colleagues have used vulgarities in talking to her and about her, male subordinates have disobeyed her and her supervisors have failed to discipline them. She said Fitzwilliam gave her unjust negative evaluations, and that superiors retaliated against her for complaining.
County investigators found in January that Fitzwilliam, Deputy Commanding Officer Paul Napoli and Ambulance Medical Technician Richard Messina violated the county's anti-discrimination policy in their treatment of Humphrey.
Detectives Pamela Olsen, Deirdre Ketcham and Noreen Cribbin filed a federal lawsuit in January accusing Nassau and six male colleagues of harassment, discrimination and violating their civil rights. They said they were subjected to sexual remarks, disciplined unfairly and denied opportunities for training and overtime given to men.
Det. Natalie Beyer filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2002 accusing the department and four male police supervisors of discriminating against her by giving a male colleague a job she requested in the Latent Fingerprints Section. "We need to take care of the 'boys,'" a lieutenant told her, according to the suit. The county has asked a judge to dismiss the case.
More than a dozen NY cops accused of sex harassment